Apple iPhone 8 & 8 Plus Review: What’s Inside is What Matters
Cain and Abel, Mukesh and Anil, Stannis and Renley, Venus and Serena. History’s long list of sibling rivalries just got a tech addition last month — the iPhones 8 and the new ‘apple of Apple’s eye’, the iPhone X.
Pretty much as soon as the world had gotten their first glance at the new iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, Apple upstaged the latest iPhones (some would say obsoleted!) with the radically-redesigned all-screen iPhone X, the company’s bold vision of the smartphone of the future.
Bit of a pity, really, since under the same-old-same-old exterior iphone 8s, lurk a couple of rather nice devices, as I’ve found out in the last two weeks of using the phones.
Apple’s prowess in chip design shows in the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, with its own A11 bionic chip sitting at the heart of not only both these devices, but also the upcoming iPhone X.
Benchmarks aside (where the iPhone steamrolled over the current crop of Android devices), the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus blazed through everything I threw at it, crunching through all manner of multi-tasking – from playing graphic intensive games to streaming while browsing – without any issues.
The iPhones did turn warm occasionally over sustained gaming periods, but never enough to bother me particularly.
iOS 11 runs fluidly, as expected, and apps open incredibly quickly, and the only real place where even iPhone 7 and 7 Plus owners may see the bump in power is when you pick up one of the new apps that use Apple’s augmented reality implementation (ARKit).
Using apps like Housecraft (place realistic looking furniture to see how it looks inside your home) and MeasureKit (find measurement of objects simply by pointing the camera in the direction), the fluidity and real-time response benefits are tangible and the phones don’t miss a beat even when you’re navigating your way through a lot of on-screen elements.
Yes, yes, those bezels, they’re so last year, but if you look past the design, you’ll see possibly the best LCD displays in the business at work on the new iPhones 8. Nope, the sizes remain the same as their predecessors, as do the wide color gamut and brightness levels from last year’s iPhones.
Apple has brought in the True Tone tech from the iPad Pro, which essentially measures ambient light with sensors on the front of the phone and adjusts color temperature on the fly.
Sure, it would've been nicer to have the quad-driver array used in the iPad Pros, but the earpiece speaker does a good job keeping up with the primary speaker on the phones' bottom edge.
On paper, the cameras look largely unchanged from last year’s models, with the 8 Plus sporting two 12-megapixel cameras – one wide-angle lens with f/1.8 aperture and one telephoto lens with f/2.8 aperture, with the wide-angle getting optical image stabilisation as well.
Same as last year, right?
Thanks to a bunch of under-the-hood improvements (including a larger, faster sensor and a deeper pixels for better dynamic range), the 8 and 8 Plus take pictures that offer more detail and impact than the phones from the year before.
Bottom line, this is one of the best smartphone shooters I’ve tested, not just in good light where the cameras deliver excellent detail and impressive dynamic range, but also in tricky low light situations, where the cameras focus faster, expose subjects better and reduce noise to within usable levels.
The big question, however, is how does the 8 Plus compare to the Note 8, Samsung’s dual-camera toting current reigning champion? In daylight shots, the 8 Plus edges ahead of the Note 8 in terms of detail and staying truer-to-life, whereas the Note 8 colors look a little more punchy and alive.
In low light without a flash, the Note 8’s shots are a little brighter, but Apple’s improved quad-LED flash burst-flashes after a longer exposure, which allows a brighter subject with a correctly exposed background, which lets folks like me who hate using the flash for low-light shooting learn to love the flash all over again!
Given Samsung’s consistent lead in the camera department for the past couple of years, Apple’s jump forward this year is impressive.
Of course, Portrait Mode, Apple’s class-leading dual camera implementation of the deliciously blurred out backgrounds makes a return this year with better portrait mode performance in low light, plus you can use the flash for these portraits if it’s too dark.
And then there’s Portrait Lighting, a feature in beta, which lets you play around with the lighting to make photos more dramatic (love the Studio Light mode, and the Stage Light mode when it cooperates!).
Video chops are upgraded as well – the 8 and 8 Plus offer a smartphone first – 4K video at 60 frames per second and super slow-mo 240fps video at 1080p resolution. Impressive stuff.
Let’s be honest, this is a terribly dated exterior, one that harks back to the good old days of 2014 when the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus design felt fresh and striking, and here we are, four years later, still looking at a phone that is virtually indistinguishable, from the front, from its fathers and forefathers!
That said, this is possibly the best evolution of the design — out goes the aluminium of yore, replaced by a pane of strengthened glass, which Apple claims is the most durable glass ever in a smartphone.
The new colors and the glass backs give the iPhones 8 a pleasant sense of symmetry about them that they haven’t had since the iPhone 4S. The glass backs finally give the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus wireless charging capabilities, but there’s no wireless charger in the box.
Likewise for fast charging – the included 5W charger drip charges the iPhone, and you need to cough up some more cash to buy the 29W charger and a USB-C to Lightning cable to see fast charging at work. When you’re paying a pretty penny for the iPhone, this is the least you expect.
Why Buy It?
Apple could (and should) have called these new iPhones the 7S and the 7S Plus, not because they’re not big leaps forward in terms of performance and camera, but because these phones are let down by a now ageing design. They don’t have the X’s charm and good looks, but they’re solid performers that won’t let you down.
The question is, should you buy them, or hold off for a month for the X? iPhone 7 Plus owners may not feel the need to upgrade, but if you have a 6S or older iPhone, you will see big differences in features and performance.
Months later, once the initial hysteria around the X has quietened down, these will remain good devices to pick up, without paying the premium that the X will command.
If you’re looking to pick up a new iPhone and can’t stomach the near 1-lakh price point of the X, the 8 and 8 Plus are impressive options to consider. If you want to see what the future looks like, save your money for now and go all out a little over a month from now!
(Tushar Kanwar is a technology columnist and commentator and has been contributing for the past 15 years to India’s leading newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at @2shar.)